PLASTIC!

How you are you doing sheltering in place? My family is healthy and able to adjust and continue with work and schooling. The biggest impact so far is psychological; it’s difficult to think or converse about anything else. My family is incredibly fortunate so far. However, it does mean that we stop thinking about other things.

For example, I normally attempt to purchase as little food as possible packaged in single use plastic. For example, I usually purchase parmesan cheese whole instead of grated in a plastic tub. I hope the thin shrink wrapping on the wedge of cheese has a smaller ecological footprint than the plastic tub labeled with a “5” in the recycling symbol on the bottom. I’ve opted for the shrink wrap though not recyclable and the tub technically is as our community collects and attempts to recycle plastics labeled 1-7.

While the tub is recycleable, I am not confident it actually gets recycled. And even if it did, one must consider the resources that were required to make the plastic in the first place. I suspect the plastic wrapping had less of an environmental footprint in terms of resource consumption to make than the thicker, more dense, larger tub. But, I don’t really know, which is also a problem.

The reality is studies have found that at most 10% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. I bet you think, and I thought, that the symbol meant that it was recycleable to some degree. That isn’t the purpose of that symbol. The purpose is merely to identify what kind of plastic it is so you can know if it is recycleable or not. This was a purposeful decision by the plastic industry.

Recognizing that we had a plastic problem, the decision was made not to reduce or reuse plastic, but instead to recycle. Focusing on the first two would hurt profits, so recycling was the only course of action and industry could take. What happened was that plastic production and consumption dramatically increased. We consumers thought erroneously that by recycling we were doing our part to “save the planet” and we could wash our hands (for 20 seconds remembering to wash the back of your hand, get between your fingers, and don’t forget about the thumb!). See, always thinking about the pandemic, even when not.

This dramatic increase in plastic production means the recycling market cannot keep up with the amount produced. Recycling only works if there is a market to purchase the plastic and reuse it as a raw material for more plastic production. We have a significantly greater supply of raw recycled plastic material than a demand for it. And when there is a high demand that is because we are producing more plastic (which 90% of will not be recycled). That means that most of the plastic doesn’t ever get recycled. The plastic that does not get recycled does not often end up in a properly designed landfill since it was separated from the traditional refuse pickup. 32% of plastic packaging ends up in the ocean.

That puts us into a positive feedback loop. We make more out of plastic, so we purchase more plastic. But, if recycling it is too expensive, the material is contaminated with the wrong kind of plastic or other refuse, then it is not usable as a raw material. If oil prices drop, as they have dramatically now, it is cheaper to make plastic from new raw materials rather than recycled. It is a sure bet that as oil prices drop and we shift to other sources of fuel, the oil industry will shift to plastic production as a market for their oil and we will see increased campaigning for the need for recycling instead of reducing or reusing plastic.

So what does this have to do with the pandemic? The last time I shopped I purchased the tub of parmesan. I don’t even really know why. I wasn’t thinking about the packaging. I was consumed with purchasing 2-3 weeks of groceries instead of my typical 1 week of groceries. I was thinking about convenience, what will keep longer, what can I fit in the freezer, etc.

It is of course natural to be consumed with the largest disruption to our economy and daily lives since WW II. At some point, however, we will have to return to normalcy, even if that normalcy is somewhat different. We will still have a plastic production and consumption problem. We will still have a climate crisis. We will still have a water and air pollution problem. The longer we are consumed with other thoughts and efforts of mere survival of one crisis, the other crises will expand. That’s a real problem, because all of these crises are interconnected, and none can be ignored as an increase in one will compound the others.

For now, shelter in place as much as possible so we can all get through this crisis. Then, when life begins to resume keep these other crises in mind. They are all interconnected, and ultimately these environmental crises will make this pandemic like like child’s play by comparison. In the end, it won’t be Mother Earth that will lose, it will be us fragile Homo sapiens economicus that will lose.

Here’s a link to a useful article that explains the recycle symbol and number key: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/g804/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321/. Check with your local municipality to get a precise list of what plastic can be recycled in your area.

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Hard Times Come Again No More

The song, “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster, from 1854, still resonates. While how we conduct our daily lives today is different than during the industrial revolution, Gilded age and Civil War, maybe we are seeing the underlying ideals still remain. As we progress through this pandemic, some are quickly shifting from necessary patience for protecting one another by sheltering to a desire to simply let the disease run its course and let the chips (bodies) fall where they may. America, our Social Darwinism is showing. We may be revealing that the plan for individuals to survive this pandemic is to not get sick. And those that do, can’t afford access to a respirator, and cannot afford the time away from employment, may just have to suffer the consequences. This was America in the 1800s. Are we going to regress back to that or progress beyond it?

In his song Stephan Foster, begins with a call to all who have access to life’s pleasures to consider the plight of those without in the first verse and adds in the chorus that hard times can come for anyone, not just those who “deserve” it:

Verse 1:
Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh, hard times, come again no more.

Chorus:
‘Tis a song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times, come again no more.

Foster challenges us throughout the rest of the song to see, hear, and recognize those around us who’s lives are one of toil and struggle. He’s reminding us that those without are not ever far away, even if rendered silent.

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh! Hard times, come again no more

There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er;
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day.
Oh! Hard times, come again no more

‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh! Hard times come again no more

Still today (even before the pandemic’s impact on our economy) more and more struggle to live comfortably despite low unemployment and (previously and presumably again) a surging stock market. Those gains however, are not felt by many that labor day to day fueling our economy. If we really wanted to make America great again, I don’t think a return to the Gilded Age is the correct aspiration–maybe instead we should aspire to a time of strong worker rights bolstering the middle class. Though this time, in a way that includes all races in that prosperity. Maybe we’d also work to structure our elections to inform and then facilitate participation of all so the “sigh” of all citizens was heard and they were represented in order to further a more perfect union of the people, governed. by the people, and for the people.

Here is my rendition of this song with a few of the lyrics updated.

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A Global Teachable Moment and a Bag of Carrots

My wife came home from work yesterday with her computer and other desk supplies in a box. Today she starts working from home. That’s my gig. We now have two home offices set up. My daughter arrived home from college late last week, but still taking a full load of courses. So, she’ll be working from home too. This is all instead of leaving last Friday for a week at the beach at Dauphin Island of the coast of Alabama. My wife also brought home twenty-five pounds of carrots from work. Wholesale purchase from the farm that contracts with the college (and other schools’) food service. Expect the unexpected.

So far that’s the extent of the impact of the pandemic on our lives–change and inconvenience primarily, but at the moment nothing to complain about. As my wife said yesterday while the three of us watched a movie together on the couch in our sweats and with snacks, “the Goodwin’s have been preparing our whole lives for this.”

I aI am in no way downplaying the impact I think we will see. I believe we are at just the beginning of some very difficult and disruptive times. For many so far, it is just a surrealness wafting through the air. It feels like we are in the first chapter of a young adult dystopia novel.

The reality is probably that we have no idea what to expect, how to prepare, and how to deal with such massive health and the economic disruption. For the foreseeable future my family is economically secure, not facing any loss of employment and income. We understand our fortunate standing and that this is not the case for significant segments of the population working in jobs completely dependent on other people having the means and needs to purchase services or goods they provide or help manufacture.

The twenty-five pound bag of carrots is a reminder that we are all connected much more so than we often realize. No one’s financial, health, or happiness security is isolated and self-determined. We all absolutely need one another.

Assuming we keep our heads and have the capacity for any sort of collective processing and reflection (which will require significant positive leadership from our elected officials), we could be in the beginning of a very “teachable moment.”

Income inequality is not just a problem for the working poor. The wealthy rely on the working poor to provide services and goods. And, maybe an economic system built on perpetual expansion of goods production and more and more services is not sustainable.

Lack of affordable health care and paid medical leave for many in the population affects the health of all in the population.

Schools are providing many more services for our children than just education as evidenced by concern for children going hungry now that they aren’t fed by the school five days a week.

High-speed internet access might need to be considered a public utility like electricity and water, and not a luxury.

Our supply chain may not be as stable as necessary.

Actual fake Actual fake news and disinformation used to divide and maintain power has a direct impact on the actual survival of actual human beings. It isn’t just schtick, entertainment, and/or the new politics. Facts matter, and opinions not based on facts are corrosive to our society.

IIn the past, we have shown a great propensity to come together generously providing assistance for one another in times of need. This very well could be the greatest time of need and disruption that we have faced in three or four generations.

But I think we can do this. Who’s up for some carrot soup?

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Exposed

We’ve been exposed to and by covid-19.

We are unprepared for a significant national emergency and interruption to our daily routines and economy. This interruption isn’t due to the number of individuals that are sick and actually afflicted by the virus, but instead our lack of preparation for the virus and our early responses to it.

We are now seeing that prior cuts to the CDC, NIH, and other agencies that are the front lines to predict, prepare for, and lead the response to such an emergency have greatly compromised our ability to respond. Covid-19 is most dangerous to those with a compromised immune system. These cuts have compromised the immune system of the U.S. And it was a choice that we made.

We are now seeing that the impact is going to be felt the greatest by those already living on the edge of poverty and in the margins of our society. This is the norm, but as that population goes, so goes the health of the more affluent. As Wellstone said, “we all do better when we all do better.” This applies not just to social justice and wages, but equity in access to paid sick leave and affordable health care.

Our unwillingness to address these two issues means a significant number of our population is now endangering the entire population. Many individuals do not have the luxury of staying home from work when they are their kids sick, getting to the doctor at the first signs of infection, let alone then quarantining themselves for fourteen days. Even that temporary loss of income plus medical bills might result in eviction or bankruptcy for the working poor. Why are there even working poor?

Our distrust of our own government and/or our own news sources, coupled with a proclivity to assign a grand conspiracy to any inconvenience rendered us largely impotent to take early steps. The result might be an overwhelming of our already-at-capacity health care facilities that could have been avoided.

We’ve been exposed.

And now we are panicking.

Maybe this exposure can serve as an inoculation for the next national crisis and emergency so that we can do better.

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Don’t Feed the Fear Monster

Does it seem to you that we are collectively on the edge of panic and in a state of fear? The impact of this on our daily lives and our ability to make reasonable short-term and long-term decisions is not good. When in a heightened or prolonged state of fear, the upper (or conscious) brain essentially gets shut down, or at least sidelined, by the amygdala. During such times the amygdala directs new stimuli to the lower brain (subconscious) which is responsible for operations during times of “fight or flight.” It’s sort of like being booted up in “safe mode.” Only essential operations are processed and the rest are set aside.

This was a really useful adaptation when we were the tall predator and also prey species in the tall-grass savanna. Survival relied upon instinctual, immediate reactions when suddenly sensing a fatal scenario. This isn’t our world anymore, but it is still our biology.

Of course, this adaptation is still useful today in the rare, truly life-threatening situation. Recent brain research indicates, however, that even in non life-threatening situations, but prolonged states of high anxiety, stress, and fear the amygdala “over-corrects” and redirects stimuli to the lower brain instead of to the frontal cortex for proper cognitive processing of stimuli and incorporating into our collected wisdom.

Our biology is skewing how we view and interact with each other our modern world. These are indeed perilous times when it comes to seismic shifts in politics, potential environmental collapse, and income/resource inequity. Now, add growing concerns over a pandemic that could easily rival the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, and I get it. I’m fearful too and at times and feel myself slip into a downward spiral and am searching simply for the escape route away from the danger.

The trouble is, at these times our lower brain is taking over, and the only goal is immediate fighting or fleeing for survival. However, the problems we face require not fighting or fleeing, but instead require the evolutionary gifts humanity has over most other vertebrates that also have the fight or flight response. We have an incredible capacity for critical thinking, empathy, morality, and collective wisdom and collaborative problem-solving. With these skills housed in our upper brain, we have capacity for great accomplishments.

To achieve this, we have to recognize when our fear is being fed and taking over. At that time we are not longer utilizing our uniquely human evolutionary (or divinely given if you like) gifts to override the more basal fear response of our lower brain. Don’t feed the fear monster.

Tune out and turn off politicians and pundits that are stoking this constant state of fear. It is literally disrupting our cognitive ability to make reasonable choices and take proper action in response to legitimate anger and fear. Anger and fear can be useful emotions and fuel action and change.

Unfortunately, many of us have been pushed beyond anger to a place of rage. Now, from this place of rage, our lower brain takes over, ready to fight, and we no longer make choices based on wisdom needed for a complex modern world, and we then resort to potentially violent or irrational action. Plus, we become subject to the brainwashing influence of the fear peddlers and no longer utilize our upper, conscious, thinking brain. This can lead to spiraling deeper into fear and then vent it out as rage.

Turn off FOX news, MSNBC, and talk radio. Their business model is to feed this fear to keep you tuned in for the next hour with the next pundit telling you how dangerous it is out there. It may indeed be dangerous, but choose news consumption wisely and in limited doses. A constant barrage of news and a continuous scrolling ticker is not necessary to productively participate in our democracy.

Here’s some potential resource to use to help wade through the noise:

The CRAAP Test

When you search for information, you’re going to find lots of it… but is it good information? You will have to determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help. The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. From the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.

Evaluation Criteria:

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is the one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author / publisher / source / sponsor?
  • What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source (examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)?

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors / sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

You can download a PDF version of the CRAAP Test here.

Six questions that will tell you what media to trust

I found this resource from the American Press Institute useful for helping to evaluate news sources. Here are the six questions with some summary, but find the full article here.
1. Type: What kind of content is this?
Is it a news story? Or is it an opinion piece? Is it an ad or what some people call native advertising produced by a company? Is it a reaction to someone else’s content?
2. Source: Who and what are the sources cited and why should I believe them?
Is it a police official? A politician? What party? If it’s research, what organization produced it and what background if any is offered about them?
3. Evidence: What’s the evidence and how was it vetted?
Is the evidence a document? Was it something the source saw as an eyewitness? Is it hearsay, or second-hand? Or are they speculating about someone’s motives or what they might have done?
4. Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece proven by the evidence?
Do they follow logically from what has been cited? Sometimes this is a matter of some conclusions making sense but others going too far. Are too many conclusions being drawn from evidence that doesn’t support all of them?
5. Completeness: What’s missing?
Most content should lead to more questions. An important step in being a critical, questioning consumer is to ask yourself what you don’t understand about a subject. Look back at the piece. Did you miss something? Or was it not there?
6. Knowledge: Am I learning every day what I need?
Think about what media you consumed yesterday. What did you learn about? What did you read about?

Here’s a list of sources for fact-checking

  • Snopes Known as the “definitive internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation”
  • Lead Stories Lead Stories uses the Trendolizer™ engine to detect and debunk the latest trending fake news stories and hoaxes found on known fake news sites & networks, prank generators and satirical websites.
  • Media Bias/Fact Check Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC News), founded in 2015, is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.
  • Allsides.com Mission: By providing balanced news, issues and civil dialogue from all sides of the political bias spectrum, AllSides heals polarization and improves our democratic society.
  • False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources
  • Open Secrets “The Center for Responsive Politics is a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy. It maintains a public online database of its information”
  • Fact Check “We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases”
  • Politifact “PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics.”
  • “Fake News,” Lies and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction
  • Google Image Search
  • Misinformation Directory A list of websites that have posted deceptive content from Factcheck.org
  • Fact Checker- The Washington Post From columnist Glenn Kessler, focusing on accuracy of statements of political figures “regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local.”
  • Vote Smart Check voting records, background, and public statements of candidates from around the country.
  • Quote Investigator This records the investigatory work of Garson O’Toole who diligently seeks the truth about quotations. Who really said what? This question often cannot be answered with complete finality, but approximate solutions can be iteratively improved over time.

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Thinking About Being a Liberal

I participated in the Democratic caucus yesterday. In Minnesota it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party. Because Minnesota now has a presidential primary in addition to the caucus the primary function was to select delegates for the next level of party nomination and platform-setting business and to solicit resolutions for the party platform.

This has prompted me to think about what it means to me to be a liberal. For me, it really comes down to this quote from Paul Wellstone. “We all do better when we all do better.” I believe through government we can most efficiently pool our resources and provide equitable assistance to everyone so all have an opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our constitution allows us to make the government whatever we want, being of the people, for the people, and by the people. So, we should be able to make it work for all.

This does not mean that I think “half the people should get a bunch of free stuff while the other half works hard so the government can take their money and give it to them.” This is a condemning description of liberalism I have seen floating around social media. I don’t know any liberals who believe this. This is built on a false assumptions going back to the “welfare queen” stereotype of the 80s and 90s. I don’t know anyone who would choose to live in poverty on limited government assistance just so they didn’t have to work. And I bet you don’t either if you really think about it. If this were the case there’d be a lot more wealthy and middle class individuals who’d give up their daily grind of work to live the life of luxury of a “welfare queen.” It isn’t a life of luxury. Plus, (nearly) everyone wants to have purpose and be useful.

Yes, no matter the system there will always be those who commit fraud and try and milk any system involving money–from welfare cheats to hedge-fund managers. But we shouldn’t deny a safety net to all because of the illegal activities of a few, just like we shouldn’t suspend trading on Wall Street because a small percentage engage in insider trading.

I do believe that it is unconscionable that in a society with our collective wealth and resources that we have individuals going hungry, without shelter, proper education, or health care, and therefore not able to participate fully in the “American dream.” In this country the top 1% holds about 38% of the wealth, the next 9% holds an equal amount, leaving the remaining 24% to be shared by the remaining 90% of individuals. This kind of inequity is unethical and unsustainable. Currently, a significant segment of our population lives paycheck to paycheck and maintaining shelter, having minimal food, and access to healthcare is a day-to-day, all-consuming struggle for survival funded by piecing together sub-standard paying, part-time employment. Working full time should provide enough income to live comfortably and with dignity above the poverty line.

I believe that we still have significant racism in this country and systemic racism still contributes to wealth and resource inequity and we have a responsibility to work to correct for the fact that this country was in large part built by slave labor on conquered land. This doesn’t mean I think I’m a bad person because I’m white and benefit from this systemic inequity. It does mean that it is wrong to ignore or perpetuate this inequity.

I believe in gun control, meaning I believe in the second amendment as written, not as interpreted currently. I think that the word “regulated” is there purposefully. Being liberal doesn’t mean that I want to come and take your guns. However, I don’t accept that we are all going to be safer when more of us are conducting our daily business packing heat. I think we have the right as a society to decide that we want to regulate and control who has access to weapons designed for one purpose–to kill fellow humans. We regulate how many shells a duck hunter can put in their weapon. We should provide victims of mass shootings the same chance for survival as a duck.

Being liberal doesn’t mean that I want to abort pregnancies and kill fetuses. My preference would be that there is never another abortion. But, I do believe a woman should have complete control over what happens to their body. I also know that we reduce abortions most effectively by preventing pregnancy and providing proper reproductive healthcare to all, not by criminalizing it. And I don’t know any liberals who support practices as has been described by President Trump of delivering a baby and then deciding if it should live or not, or even late-term abortions purely for reasons of not wanting to continue the pregnancy. For God’s sake, we’re not monsters.

And speaking of God, I believe all have the right to pray whenever and wherever they want (even in school). I also believe in the right to not pray or worship a specific God at the behest of the government. Freedom of religion means complete freedom to practice or not practice a religion. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom to use one’s religion to discriminate against or mandate behavior and practice to another.

I believe that no one succeeds all on their own. Those with tremendous wealth have (possibly) earned it, but have done so within the system of our government, economy, and infrastructure which has contributed to that wealth acquisition. Our capitalist democracy contains many significant aspects of accepted socialism. We should embrace those that enhance everyone’s pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness and reject those that do not. I believe that we will all do better when we all can do better and fully participate in the economy. I believe economy trickles up, not down.

Being a liberal means I believe that we have a moral responsibility to care for one another and treat each other with dignity, respect, and humanely. We all have the same value as a human beings despite the circumstances and place of our birth, upbringing, or cultural origin.

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Thoughts From a Loser Teacher

Well, it’s official. I’m a loser. Have been since the age of 24 when I got my first teaching job. Probably longer since I was raised by a loser teacher and knew that’s what I wanted to do before I entered college. Damn. This is according to Donald Trump Jr. anyway.

I love seeing some young conservatives because I know it’s not easy. Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it. Because you can think for yourselves. They can’t

Donald Trump Jr. 2/17/20 El Paso Texas

I should clarify that his opinion of me doesn’t really matter to me. But it does continue to worry me that the primary crowd motivator that the Trump campaign uses is to prop itself up by putting others down. It’s such classic strategy of a bully with low self-esteem. And yet, it is working. It is destroying us as a country.

Do I need to counter the tired criticism of “summers off” and “working 8 am to 3 pm?” Most teachers work other jobs or use summer to continue their own education and complete required professional development to keep their license current–professional development not funded by the employer requiring that professional development. Teachers in most schools spend seven hours of their day conducting instruction of a class. The time to plan that instruction, attend meetings, grade student work, communicate with parents, consult with colleagues, etc. takes considerably more time than the remaining hour. Teachers in Scandinavian countries spend about half the time conducting instruction, leaving much more time for planning and professional development. Just saying. Teaching in the U.S. is routinely a ten-hour a day (minimum) profession if done properly, not counting coaching or leading an after school extra-curricular activity. Losers.

I think what DJT Jr. is really troubled by is his perception of “indoctrination.” I suppose there is some truth to this since beginning in kindergarten we teach children to share with, and care for one another as fellow humans. And as they mature and develop more ability for abstract thought we attempt to teach them the complexities of history, the scientific method and analyzing properly collected data and conclusions, and in general, critical thinking skills. Fucking socialists.

Years ago, during the Newt Gingrich-led contract for America days, there was a push by conservatives to take over school boards and address the liberal agenda in the curriculum (primarily the teaching of evolution by natural selection). This occurred in the small town where I was a young teacher. I was appalled when one of these new board members described what he thought a teacher did (and why they were over-paid and over-appreciated). Paraphrasing as best I can he said, “All they need to do is open up the book and tell the kids what assignment to do according to the script they have to follow.” I was working way too hard apparently.

Trouble is, the accountability movement of the last 30 years has led some school districts to adopt such a scripted curriculum. Scripted lessons that are completely homogenized and one-size fits all, that can be read by an automaton to the students and then assessed with an objective, standardized test.

Unfortunately, everything we know about how the human brain works, how children learn in social settings, and how complex information and skills are committed to permanent, long-term memory tells us what we are doing is completely wrong. Ironically, while teachers are expected to get all 30+ students/class to the same point by the same date in time, they are also required to complete professional development on how to individualize the instruction for the 30+ different learners with different backgrounds and abilities. This is of course a monumental task and paradox.

It is emotionally exhausting to care for that many dependent individuals (up to 150+ for secondary teachers) day after day for months at a time. Without some extended breaks to change up what we do, either summers or extended breaks in year-round school, the burnout rate of teachers would be much higher than it is now. Currently, about 50% of teachers leave the profession during the first five years.

I was recently observing a small progressive school complete professional development discussions about utilizing thematic, project-based learning. We know that having students learn subjects integrated together and doing so through inquiry and then assessing using projects and other “performance” assessments is much more effective than didactic delivery of information and testing memorization of facts. This kind of teaching is nearly impossible to do in almost all public school settings because class sizes are too large.

Let’s do the math. If I have 30 students/class and each student completes a unique writing assignment, project, presentation, etc. as their means of demonstrating not only knowing the facts but also then application to a problem to be solved this takes considerably more time to 1) plan for, 2) conduct with the students, and 3) provide meaningful feedback and assessment. Let’s assume that each student’s completed work requires ten minutes to review and provide feedback. That’s working quickly. That means it would take the teacher 25 hours to complete that feedback. This is during time other than the seven hours working directly with his or her classes, planning the instruction, attending meetings, etc. The math doesn’t work.

There really is a simple solution. If we did these three things I believe we’d see changes in education “like no one’s ever seen before.” Oops, slipped into Trump hyperbole there.
1. Pass legislation that class size cannot exceed 20 students–and then fund it.
2. Keep the standards, but eliminate the standardized testing that is driving current instruction back to turn of the 20th century drill and practice memorization. Allow schools to conduct their own assessment, individualized for students and the setting and then report on the progress of students.
3. And then expect schools to expand instruction to curriculum that integrates subjects, utilizes hands-on, real-world, experiential learning, and assesses with more complex writing, projects, and performance assessments. This is how us loser teacher educators are training those loser teachers, but most don’t end up in a place where the logistics allow for this kind of instruction and assessment. Those that cannot do this need ot be trained or ushered on to a new profession.

Yes, this would be expensive. We are currently spending $750 billion a year on military. It’s just a matter of priorities.

I don’t think that’s actually what the current power- and wealth-holders want out of education. In order to keep working-class wages at a minimum they need to keep education designed in the factory model to train the working class to play their part. And part of doing this is to stoke anger and fear towards one another and the “others” so that anger and fear doesn’t turn on them. The GOP beginning with Reagan has been very successful with this strategy. But in the end it is not sustainable. Those voting out of anger for Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) due to frustration with being stuck generationally as working poor will eventually turn on the power- and wealth-holders when things don’t get better (and most likely get worse) for them. You think it’s ugly now. Just wait until those in charge have to resort to direct, violent oppression quell the rising anger and keep the labor class in line.

But, what do I know. I’m just a loser teacher.

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